Tuesday 15 July 2014

How Can Cultural Property Lawyers Help their Clients?

At the moment, the blog of a cultural property lawyer representing two international dealers' associations carries on its front page a nasty story poking fun at a text on the recent Sekhemka sale (together with hosting four spiteful ad hominem comments addressed to its author). Cultural Property Lawyer Rick St Hilaire on the other hand has a much more useful text on how cultural property lawyers can help their clients (Monday, July 14, 2014, 'Dinosaur Cases Offer Due Diligence Lessons'). I think few would disagree with his conclusions:
Cultural property attorneys should inform their dealer and collector clients that due diligence and a transparent marketplace are necessary to steer clear of contraband heritage that is offered for sale. That is an important lesson taught by the cases of U.S. v. Eric Prokopi and United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton.
There is a cautionary note for buyers too about the consequences for them if a dealer is not being informed of these elementary good business practices a reputable and well-informed legal advisor. Clients of a convicted dealer may be required to surrender their property:
The cases remind observers that even though a seller may claim to offer artifacts legally, that does not necessarily mean the goods are legitimate. They must be checked out. To discover the truth about whether artifacts have been stolen, illegally exported, or smuggled requires buyers and the marketplace as a whole to ask pointed questions and to demand credible documentation. That is why finding out where cultural objects originated from and obtaining their shipping and import documents must be an important function of cultural property attorneys who advise dealers and collectors about due diligence. To counsel clients otherwise may be unwise.
I guess one other conclusion might be that anyone going into the antiquities business (or any involving the broader area of cultural property) without obtaining reliable legal advice of this nature and acting on it, is simply acting irresponsibly, and placing their customers at risk. St Hilaire points out that  by promoting strict due diligence practices to investigate the origins and transportation of artefacts, cultural property lawyers "can help dealers and collectors avoid entanglements with heritage traffickers and their illegal goods ". I'd add that in fact they not only "can", but should. At the moment, it seems to me from watching what has been going on in recent years that many antiquity dealers see their lawyers only as somebody who is there to get them off the hook if caught out, which seems to me a rather disreputable way to be involved in cultural property law.

I am 100% behind St Hilaire's proposal that "Attorneys can also take the lead to protect cultural heritage by supporting legislative reforms that would shine a spotlight on the black trade". They could even take the lead in proposing it. At the moment most of the proposals being made by cultural property lawyers (in the US in particular) seem to be aimed at avoiding and weakening regulation, rather than doing anything to resolve the problems created by today's active globalised no-questions-asked market.


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